Plans for a major international airport in the Alajuela canton of Orotina have been postponed, Costa Rica’s Public Works and Transport Ministry (MOPT) says.
“We have to forget about the airport in Orotina for a few years and concentrate on the Santamaría,” Transport Minister Rodolfo Méndez said, per La Nación.
The news means Juan Santamaría International Airport (SJO) near San José will remain Costa Rica’s primary airport for the foreseeable future. Studies conducted before the pandemic indicated SJO can feasibly serve in this role until at least 2040.
“With the pandemic, it is easy to understand that it has more life,” Méndez said. “What we have to see is how we manage the extension of that life, for the user, to meet the demand in the best possible way.”
SJO is managed by Aeris Holding, which has a contract that expires in 2026. The Costa Rican government will seek to extend that contract, Méndez said.
Economy not conducive to new airport
Since 2019, Méndez has publicly questioned the need for an airport to replace SJO.
“If we wanted to have another airport to replace Juan Santamaría, the truth is that the economic conditions of the country and the studies that exist are not conducive to that,” he said at the time.
Construction on the new Orotina airport was scheduled to begin in 2018, according to former Transport Minister Carlos Villalta.
The proposed airport would have several advantages. In addition to being larger than SJO, its lower elevation would allow planes to take off with a larger payload and reach more-distant destinations. The proposed location also remained close to the Greater Metropolitan Area (GAM) while providing tourists easier access to popular Pacific Coast destinations.
A report conducted by British firm Mott MacDonald indicated several infrastructure improvements would be necessary to support a major international airport outside the Greater Metropolitan Area. The firm recommended that Costa Rica expand Route 27, build a new highway connecting Pozón de Orotina and San Ramón, and re-start rail service between Orotina and San José.
In 2019, more than 2.4 million international visitors came to Costa Rica via airplane, and 1.8 million transited through Juan Santamaría International Airport. Just under 600,000 people transited through Daniel Oduber Quirós International Airport — an 8.5% increase over 2018.
Over recent years, SJO has added four boarding gates and a new taxiway to support its continued growth. Aeris is contemplating a series of additional improvements to the airport, but those may be delayed due to falling revenues associated with the pandemic.